Thursday, December 15, 2016

The German attack on Tobruk on 13 April 1941

The 8th Machine Gun Battalion was asked to attack and breach the anti-tank ditch protecting Tobruk. The attack was planned to start at 5pm on 13 April 1941. The Australians expected the attack to hit on the sector between posts R.30 to R.35. The attack commenced with artillery fire on the defending company. After that, the Germans opened up with small arms fire. An attack with infantry supported by tanks followed. Anti-tank gun fire from two regiments stopped the tank attack. Once it was dark, two German tanks drove along the anti-tank ditch, looking for a breach. There was indications that a larger attack might happen still, as there were some 300 vehicles grouped along the El Adem Road.

About this time, General Wavell sent General Morshead a message praising the defense of Tobruk and expressing confidence in their ability to hold out as long as necessary. Morshead passed the message on to the troops who were tasked to defend Tobruk and it was well-received. While all this was happening some Australian officers from Morshead's staff had arrived from Derna, having walked about 100 miles to the Tobruk perimeter. They had a good guide and one officer was good at finding water. There had been planning afoot to attempt a rescue of them from Derna, but they were able to make their way on their own.

During the night of 13-14 April, Australian units sent out patrols. They were looking, in part, for enemy positions. One patrol from the 2/43rd Battalion was surprised by Germans and took casualties. They had been careful to move silently and had worn soft hats. Near post R.33, a patrol brought back prisoners from the 8th Machine Gun Battalion. An Australian attack was planned for dawn on 14 April. The defense was aggressive enough that the Germans were lacking information about the defense and they had attacked at a less favorable position than if they were better informed. For example, the anti-tank ditch did not cover the entire perimeter. No ditch existed from posts R.11 to R.21. Rommel was focused on the El Adem Road, so he was a good distance from the vulnerable spot. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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